Soil mixed with sand will help Christmas cactus - Albuquerque Journal

Soil mixed with sand will help Christmas cactus

Q. I enjoy your column and especially your advice on Christmas cactus plants. I’m planning to repot in February as you recently suggested. Can you tell me what kind of soil to use? Prebagged or mix my own? I never see one that specifically mentions Christmas cactus. – M.C., Albuquerque

A. Sometimes I think of Christmas cactus as nearly succulents. I’ve learned that they come from jungle terrain, so getting watered regularly isn’t a big deal as long as the soil they are living in drains. A soggy Christmas cactus will be a very unhealthy one.Tracey Fitzgibbon

So, on that note, plant your cactus in a soil that is rich and porous. Any prebagged potting soil to which you add clean sand will be perfect. I have in the past purchased Miracle-Gro potting soil labeled for use with cactus and succulents. I added more clean sand to mine and all seems good with my Christmas cactus.

You can (usually) find clean sand displayed with the “odd” potting soils like orchid bark. That’s all it should be too, sand. If you want to purchase a larger bag of sand, playbox sand would also work.

I wouldn’t go shoveling sand from the yard. The risk of bringing in bugs, bug eggs and soil-borne disease would be too much of a risk to me.

All of the true nurseries in our area, and most of the home improvement stores that have a garden center, should carry a really good potting soil along with smaller bags of clean, or sometimes called horticultural grade, sand.

The ratio of potting soil to sand is 4 parts potting soil to 1 part sand. I would suggest also adding some sand to soil labeled for cactus too.

You want the soil to drain, period, so the pot you’re going to repot into must drain. Set broken potsherds or smallish pebbles over the drain holes to keep the soil from coursing out over time. If you’re going to consider a small pot, you can line the pot with a couple of paper coffee filters.

So, any prebagged potting soil will work, just remember to work some additional sand into the mix and your Christmas cactus will enjoy its new surroundings.

Q. I have tried to start various seedlings over the years with rather poor results. I start the seedlings in the sunroom on the west side of my house. The sunroom has glass blocks and several windows, so there is lots of light. The seedlings germinate well, but soon become extremely bent, leaning to the south glass block wall. I have tried to account for this directional growth by reorienting the seedlings so they face away from the south wall, but this only seems to result in seedlings which are twisted and very fragile. What can I do to start seedlings that aren’t bent nor weakened through my attempts to limit directional growth Should I consider a grow light or even just leave overhead lights on? – P.F., Albuquerque

A. I believe you’re on the right track with the turning of the seedlings. You don’t say how often you reorient the containers, but I think this needs to happen daily. At least every other day for sure. I call it taking the plants for a walk.

Daily, give the containers of seedlings a quarter turn. That way they’ll get the “exercise” they need and be more prone to growing straight.

You mention a grow light and they are good, but you’ll want to make sure it comes from directly above. You won’t want to add the light to the “sunny” side, so to speak. Even if you do add a grow light, get in the habit of giving seedlings a quarter turn. I wouldn’t suggest leaving an overhead light on since a “normal” bulb won’t offer the proper light spectrum. Also, remember to turn off the light at night.

I also wonder about the temperature in the sunroom. Is this space heated? And what time of year are you attempting to start your seedlings? If the room is in the chilly, lower 40s or high 30s, then the seedlings will stress. Warmer temperatures will help the seedlings stay healthier. You can find heating cables that the seedling flats sit on to offer heat from below to augment the temperatures.

So I’d suggest you make sure the room is sufficiently warm, that you turn the containers daily to encourage plant readjustment, and if you can, offer grow lighting.

It is early to think about starting seedlings indoors yet, since we are months away from being able to set any young plants outdoors. So be sure you aren’t jumping the gun by starting your seedlings now, even though we’re all starting to get the urge to start Diggin’ In.

Happy 2022 to all!

Tracey Fitzgibbon is a certified nurseryman. Send garden-related questions to Digging In, Albuquerque Journal, 7777 Jefferson NE, Albuquerque, NM 87109, or to


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